A single shadow spread its wings high above before the shining golden sun; it fell in a trail of floating white feathers down to a broad expanse of sparkling blue.
‘Icarus!’ A raw cry tore across the sky.
The sea shifted, growing restless and fierce far beneath as a small stone balcony spread from beneath his feet.
‘Look, uncle,’ a young man cried from its edge. ‘Together they point North no matter what.’
‘It’s not that special, Perdix.’ An older man stepped past and picked a small device from Perdix’s palm. ‘It’s an amusing diversion, but what purpose does it serve? It’s no labyrinth, is it?’
‘Men could use this to navigate the seas, the wild, the world.‘ Perdix pointed out over the waves. ‘If you always know which way North is, you are never truly lost.’
The older man scowled and clenched his fist, turning away. ‘It will never be a great invention.’ He tossed it over his shoulder.
Perdix lunged after it and fell, a single figure shrinking into the churning grey waves far below.
‘Perdix…’ The older man stared down into the sea, pale-faced and shaking. ‘I didn’t mean it. I just ‐ it was as good as anything I ever made.’ He cried out and clutched his chest, ripping open his robe.
A raw, red scar spread across his skin, twisting into the shape of a bird.
‘The labyrinth is only half the test, son of Poseidon.’ A soft high voice drifted over his shoulder.
Percy turned and found himself standing on white sand watching a ship with black sails fade into the distance.
‘Ensnared by dreams, Theseus left Ariadne, who gave up everything for her love for him. He sailed away, believing in his hubris he had some great destiny to fulfil and could not stay.’ A tall woman with dark eyes and hair stepped alongside him in the sand, loops of glowing golden string dangling from her fingers. ‘The labyrinth is only half the test, young hero.’
‘Ariadne…’ Percy’s eyes dipped to the string. ‘And if I pass the test?’
‘You will be able to find your way, not just through Daedalus’s labyrinth, but the maze within yourself.’
‘That sounds confusing. I don’t suppose one day I’ll get a quest that’s nice and easy?’
Ariadne smiled. ‘It would not be a test if it was easy.’ She reached out and seized the front of his t-shirt, hurling him high into the sky.
The island dwindled to a single dark speck in the shimmering blue as Percy soared up into the warmth of the sun. He floated in the light of Apollo’s rays as he basked in the touch of their heat, letting their glow soak into him.
The sky lurched and the sea rushed up toward him as he fell in a shower of white feathers.
Percy smacked into a cold hard floor and groaned, opening one eye.
The water bed sagged into a spreading puddle.
‘Maybe the leak was a problem.’ He dragged himself up and fished his trainers out of the water.
But that dream was real. Percy stuffed his feet into his shoes and dipped a hand into his pocket to find Anaklusmos. Ariadne is testing me.
‘Are you okay?’ Annabeth wandered over. ‘Oh…’
‘Yeah. Turns out that leak was a bit of a problem after all.’ Percy shrugged. ‘What’s the time?’
‘Time we got moving. I was just about to come and kick you awake when I saw you’d vanished.’
‘Well, I’m awake now.’ He snatched up his bag and pointed at the revolving door. ‘Is that the way back in?’
‘I checked it out. There’s a loose panel of glass inside the revolving door with a delta on it,’ Annabeth said, leading him across to where Grover, Tyson and Nico sat on the edge of a bed.
‘Back in we go,’ Grover muttered. ‘More wandering in the gloom.’
‘Me first,’ Percy said, drawing Anaklusmos. ‘Just in case.’ He stepped into the revolving door, following it around until he spied the loose panel and squeezed through.
Doorways blinked in the shifting bronze walls and the floor shuddered beneath his feet.
Annabeth stumbled into the back of him. ‘Move, Fish-face.’
‘Sorry.’ He hopped aside as Tyson and Grover squeezed through after them. ‘I was contemplating how the fact the labyrinth is always changing means it’s literally never Feng Shui. Look at all the uneven spacing between those lines, Annabeth. And all that asymmetry… The horror.’
‘Oh shut up,’ she muttered, shoving at his shoulder. ‘Or I’m going to unevenly space your face.’
Nico scrambled through and froze. ‘Percy!’ He darted past and grabbed hold of a battered grey door, tugging at it with both hands. ‘Tyson!’
Percy pulled it open.
A biting cold wind ripped through them from a shore of white pebbles and flowing grey mist; it came with soft screams and flakes of frost, echoing up from the dark.
He nudged Annabeth in the hip. ‘This one does not spark joy.’
Annabeth snorted with laughter and shook her head. ‘It’s not meant to spark joy. That’s Hades. ’
‘I know,’ Nico snapped. ‘We have to go there. My sister is there.’
‘Nico…’ Percy murmured.
Tyson reached out a hand with a solemn look in his eye. ‘Come on, Nico.’
‘I’m going.’ He balled his fists. ‘And you should come with me, Percy! You got her killed!’
‘Nico,’ Annabeth hissed. ‘That is not—’
‘It’s okay.’ Percy stared into the grey fog. ‘You all told me I couldn’t go too. But we went. And we saved my mom.’ He turned to Nico and crouched down. ‘It’s going to be impossible, Nico. Hades, your dad, he’ll offer you a deal, and it’ll seem like something you can do, but only if you can be more than human—’
‘I’m a demigod. I am more than human.’
A small smile crept onto Percy’s lips. ‘Someone told me that impossible is a word for those who’ve given up.’
‘You’re coming?’ Nico’s dark eyes lit up.
‘I can’t come, Nico.’ Percy pointed back into the labyrinth. ‘If this isn’t shut or something, then Luke could just send all the monsters he wants right to camp. And I know you want your sister back. And I wish she wasn’t gone. But I have to try and help everyone, not just one girl.’
Annabeth sighed and muttered something under her breath.
‘So you’re not coming.’ Nico scowled. ‘Even though she died because of you.’
Guilt settled in the pit of his stomach, cold, heavy and still, like water in a winter pond. ‘No. But you can go if you’re dead set on it, Nico. I didn’t let anyone stop me.’ He pointed through the door into the dark. ‘You can’t drag her back, Nico. She has to choose to follow you. And you can’t doubt.’
‘I know,’ Nico muttered. ‘I know. I’ll ask. It’s like you said before she left. She gets to choose her own life… or death.’
‘Good luck, Nico.’ Percy stood back up. ‘Be careful. Hades is always a part of you, but the Underworld isn’t going to be as safe as camp.’
‘Camp isn’t actually that safe,’ Annabeth murmured. ‘The lava wall is a massive health and safety violation.’
‘Don’t listen to Annabeth. She’s just upset they didn’t let her design the new part of camp. She wanted to put the lava walls in parallel lines, but Chiron wouldn’t let her because it would be a literal death trap.’
She kicked him in the shin. ‘Your dad will help you if you need, Nico.’
Probably. Percy bit his tongue. Dad helps sometimes. He tried not to think of Silena’s blood running down into the waves. You only get to make your own choices. Only your own.
Nico stepped through the door onto white pebbles. ‘I—’
A deafening bellow rang Percy’s ears. The minotaur champed and pawed at the ground with one hoof, tossing its head. Sparks flew as the tips of its horns scored through the ceiling with sharp screeches.
‘This one does spark joy,’ he said, pulling Anaklusmos from his pocket and snapping it into a sword. ‘Time for best of three.’
Tyson drew himself up, narrowing his eye and balling his huge fists.
‘Go, Nico,’ Annabeth said. ‘Quickly.’
The battered grey door thudded shut.
‘Er… Percy?’ Grover bleated something rude and backed away as the minotaur lowered its head. ‘Now would be a great moment for you to do something.’
Percy levelled Anaklusmos at it. ‘That isn’t going to work any better than last time.’
It charged, thundering down the passage with fury burning its small dark eyes. He threw himself into a white door as it crashed into the wall where he’d stood. Annabeth drove her knife into its calf and twisted as the minotaur whirled around; it battered her down the wall into Tyson and lowered its head.
Percy lunged, driving Anaklusmos through its ribs. The minotaurs burst into gold dust and a horn clattered to the floor.
‘Ha!’ He snatched it up. ‘Now the wall will finally be symmetrical, Owl-face.’
Annabeth picked herself up with a groan, grabbing her knife from the floor. ‘It’s the left horn again, Kelp-brain. You haven’t got a pair of horns, you’ve got two of the same.’
‘What…’ Percy held it up and sighed. ‘That’s not fair.’ He tossed it away down the corridor. ‘I guess we keep going. Until we figure out what that stupid prophecy means.’
‘We’re in the labyrinth,’ Grover said. ‘That’s darkness and fear, right? It’s gloomier here than Polyphemus’s cave.’
Aphrodite knew. A little chill trickled down Percy’s spine like a single drop of water down a frosted window pane. She warned me.
‘Nico went after his sister,’ Annabeth whispered. ‘A ghost.’
‘Echoes,’ Tyson mumbled. ‘What does flee mean?’
‘Run away from.’ Percy frowned. ‘Right, Crayon-artist?’
And then we lose one most dear.
‘It’s probably Aphrodite that I’ll be running away from.’ He smothered the clashing of sharp, choppy waves in his gut with a grin. ‘She told me you were coming to get me and drag me down here. Maybe I should have read more into that… Have you been feeling any kind of romancey girly feelings recently, Annabeth? That aren’t aimed at neoclassical sculptors… I hate that I know what that is and it’s your fault I do, Column-hugger.’
Annabeth’s grey eyes snapped up to his. ‘She told you? When?’
‘During Silena’s funeral.’ Percy grimaced. ‘She just wants to mess with me, I think. Or something like that. I don’t know. I’m just going to make my choices. And what happens, happens.’
She said it doesn’t have to be me. Unless I choose it to be. He glanced down at Anaklusmos and up through the shifting bronze ceiling of the labyrinth to where he imagined the full moon hanging amongst the stars. But I have to choose well, don’t I, Zoë?